Positioning South Africa right in China

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Newly appointed Brand South Africa's China country manager Tebogo Lefifi is the personification of the Chinese dream.

Tebogo Lefifi says opportunities must be created for South African firms to thrive in China and that South Africa should be marketed as a destination for Chinese firms. Kuang Linhua / China Daily 

When the Beijing UN Women's conference was all the rage in 1995, Lefifi was a commerce student at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. The conference made an impression on the young woman, blending as it did with the women's liberation aspects of the heady experimentation with broad freedoms in post-apartheid South Africa.

After a brief sojourn at South African companies, a Portuguese-learning stint in Brazil and a detour to London to work for Kryterion, a Canadian-US educational testing and certification firm, Lefifi moved to Beijing in the winter of 2008.

Looking back, her interest in China emanated from a mix of gut feelings and research.

She explains: "My role in London was to drive global educational certification for Kryterion. The US market, which was our principal market, was rapidly maturing and getting saturated. In our looking elsewhere, emerging Brazil, China and India offered 'low-hanging fruits'."

In the end, Lefifi and her seniors at Kryterion chose China but the idea was abandoned altogether.

However, Lefifi was bitten by the China bug, with the seemingly endless opportunities that the country's fast-paced economic developments offered.

Soon after she arrived in Beijing, Lefifi realized that she would have to be there either for three months or 15 years. She chose the latter.

"China is as huge as it is deep. You can't just be academic about it. You have to live here for an extended period of time to become a China subject matter specialist and to cultivate guanxi (relationships), whichever field you choose," she says.

Her entry strategy was a three-month self-sponsored Chinese-language course.

Lefifi was lucky that her former UK employer was the first client for the then nascent Africa@work, her startup advisory consultancy firm. Thus, she didn't have to worry over her keep.

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